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A Safe and Effective Muscle Building Strategy Perfect For Introverts

Updated: Mar 30

Arnold is slapped down to size by his maverick mentor with some tough love and a lesson for all of us.

Arnold Schwarzenegger with Vince Gironda
Arnold Schwarzenegger with Vince Gironda

The year was 1968 and an enormous Austrian extrovert wearing flip-flops, white shorts and a string t-shirt strolled into Vince Gironda’s gym. The Iron Guru was chewing the fat with a couple of guys at the counter, absently ruminating on a cigar he hadn’t got around to lighting. The young man announced in very broken English, “I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger – Mr. Universe.” Vince looked him over, took the cigar out of his mouth and replied, “You just look like a fat f@&k to me”. Unfazed, Arnold shook his hand and proceeded to become his star pupil.

This story has nothing and everything to do with the rest of this post. Firstly, it is a lesson in humility. Most people would have taken umbrage and walked straight back out the door but Arnold was smarter than that. He could see the truth behind Gironda’s assessment and from that point on worked on the quality of his physique rather than just simply training to get bigger. Soon he was unbeatable.

The main relevance of this story is the depth of Gironda’s wisdom. The eccentric trainer of movie stars and bodybuilding champions was the pioneer of Density Training. The basic premise is to maximise the amount of work done within a certain period of time. This is done by utilising short rest periods and working to failure on only the final set on any exercise. He advocated a number of set/rep schemes (e.g. 10x10, 8x8, 15x4) and rest periods from 60 seconds down to 15 seconds with 30 seconds as a baseline.

Vince Gironda
Vince had an impressive physique himself

Exercise science supports this protocol. With regard to different muscle fibre types, there is a sequence of recruitment known as the ‘size principle’. As a muscle applies force, it starts by activating the smaller type 1 motor units. When these units can’t provide the required force, the larger type 2A’s will be called upon until near-maximum force is supplied by the type 2B’s if required.

The simplest way to implement Density Training is to follow a 4x10 rep scheme for larger muscle groups (chest, back, quads) and a 3x12 rep scheme for the smaller muscle groups (except calves, which respond better to 3x15) and utilise the standard 30 second rest periods.

So in physiological terms, this means that the first set or two will use primarily slow-twitch muscle fibers and as the sets become progressively harder the type 2A’s will kick in before the 2B’s are called upon to complete the last excruciating reps on the final set. This is ideal since the 2A’s have the most potential for growth. As an added bonus, training this way is inherently safe because the initial sets provide an ample warm-up before the final all-out set and, if you are still not sold, delivers a most gratifying pump.

The big advantage for introverts of training this way is that it represents the ideal balance between training volume and intensity. Training to failure (when you can't complete another rep) is very stressful for the nervous system - especially for introverts - and jacks up your levels of cortisol (known as the stress hormone) which is kryptonite for testosterone. Yet it is necessary to challenge your muscle to make progress. Training with a large number of sets also raises cortisol levels but research and experiences in the trenches have repeatedly shown that you also need sufficient volume to facilitate physiological adaptations. One or two sets won't cut it. Density training is the perfect solution as it provides sufficient stimulation for increases in size and strength without depleting your recovery ability.

This form of weight training is also super-efficient by design with the short rest periods making it an ideal option for anyone wanting to increase their muscle mass safely while also having a life outside of the gym. Obviously, you will have to use considerably lighter weights than usual to train in this style but just as humility worked for Arnold it can work for you too.

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